OpenAI was in open revolt on Monday with 505 employees signing an open letter threatening to leave unless the board resigns and reinstates Sam Altman as CEO, along with cofounder and former president Greg Brockman. Altman was controversially fired by the board on Friday.
“The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company” the letter reads. “Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.”
Remarkably, the letter’s signees include Ilya Sutskever, the company’s chief scientist and a member of its board, who has been blamed for coordinating the boardroom coup against Altman in the first place.
Shortly before the letter was released, Sutskever posted on X: “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions. I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.|
The letter’s release follows an extraordinary, head-spinning weekend in Silicon Valley. OpenAI’s board removed Altman from his position on Friday, claiming “he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”
Mira Murati, OpenAI’s chief technology officer, was appointed as interim CEO.
After blowback from investors including Microsoft, OpenAI’s board seemed open to having Altman return to lead the company. Altman posted a photo of himself wearing a visitors’ badge at the company’s headquarters on Sunday. But last night, the board told staff that Altman would not be returning to the company.
Hours later, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that Altman and Brockman would be joining the tech giant to head a new advanced AI research unit.
Nadela appeared to leave the door open to any OpenAI employees eager to jump ship, adding of Altman’s new Microsoft subsidiary: “We look forward to moving quickly to provide them with the resources needed for their success.”
Nadella also said on X that the new venture would be “setting a new pace for innovation,” suggesting a more aggressive approach than the OpenAI board was apparently comfortable with.
In another rapid-fire reshuffle, OpenAI’s board chose to remove Murati and appoint another interim CEO, Emmett Shear, the former CEO of the video game streaming site Twitch.
Some OpenAI staff stayed up all night debating a course of action following news that Altman would not return to OpenAI. Many staff were frustrated about a lack of communication over Altman’s firing. Dozens of employees appeared to signal their willingness to jump ship and join Altman last night by posting “OpenAI is nothing without its people.” on X.
In their letter, the OpenAI staff threaten to join Altman at Microsoft. “Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join,” they write.
The precise reason for Altman’s removal remains unclear, even to many inside the company. “Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any written evidence,” the letter says in its message to the board.
Besides calling for the current board, made up of Ilya Sutskever, Adam D’Angelo, Helen Toner, and Tasha McCauley, to resign, the letter requests that two new independent lead board members, Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, be appointed. Taylor is a tech industry veteran with close ties to Altman; Hurd is a politician who previously served on the OpenAI board.
The letter raises the very real prospect of OpenAI losing almost all of its staff, and Microsoft essentially acqu-ihiring the entire company. OpenAI has around 770 total staff, per the Wall Street Journal.
The wild saga also highlights OpenAI’s unusual governance structure, which gave a few non-profit board members extraordinary power of the hottest tech company in the world.
The episode also reveals how divisive the race to develop artificial intelligence has become among many involved with developing the technology.
Altman’s efforts to raise money for OpenAI, and to turn its offerings into commercial products, may have unsettled board members who saw their responsibility as ensuring that AI is developed safely.
OpenAI’s meteoric rise in the year since ChatGPT was released has been accompanied with growing talk about the risks that increasingly advanced AI may pose.
The letter reads:
To the Board of Directors at OpenAI,
OpenAI is the world’s leading AI company. We, the employees of OpenAI, have developed the best models and pushed the field to new frontiers. Our work on AI safety and governance shapes global norms. The products we built are used by millions of people around the world. Until now, the company we work for and cherish has never been in a stronger position.
The process through which you terminated Sam Altman and removed Greg Brockman from the board has jeopardized all of this work and undermined our mission and company. Your conduct has made it clear you did not have the competence to oversee OpenAI.
When we all unexpectedly learned of your decision, the leadership team of OpenAI acted swiftly to stabilize the company. They carefully listened to your concerns and tried to cooperate with you on all grounds. Despite many requests for specific facts for your allegations, you have never provided any written evidence. They also increasingly realized you were not capable of carrying out your duties, and were negotiating in bad faith.
The leadership team suggested that the most stabilizing path forward – the one that would best serve our mission, company, stakeholders, employees and the public – would be for you to resign and put in place a qualified board that could lead the company forward in stability.
Leadership worked with you around the clock to find a mutually agreeable outcome. Yet within two days of your initial decision, you again replaced interim CEO Mira Murati against the best interests of the company. You also informed the leadership team that allowing the company to be destroyed “would be consistent with the mission.”
Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI. We are unable to work for or with people that lack competence, judgement and care for our mission and employees. We, the undersigned, may choose to resign from OpenAI and join the newly announced Microsoft subsidiary run by Sam Altman and Greg Brockman. Microsoft has assured us that there are positions for all OpenAI employees at this new subsidiary should we choose to join. We will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors, such as Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstates Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.
Will Knight, Steven Levy